Editor's Comment: Doubting Thomas -top man!
IT WAS the great British philosopher, historian, writer, mathematician, reformist, pacifist, and all-round egg-head Bertrand Russell who said: 'The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.'
It was also that other great thinker of the last century, that famous martial arts expert and thief-catcher, Inspector Clouseau who said 'I believe everything and I believe nothing'
'Passive acceptance of the teacher's wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position'
- Bertrand Russell
In today's world where we are are suffocating under an avalanche of reports from academics, scientists, civil servants, doctors, etc, on every conceivable facet of our lives - but normally in some way to do with public health or the end of the world (sometimes both), do we have the time, knowledge or confidence to pay heed to these wise words.
Certainly the national press and tv don't help matters. Any such report, the more extreme the better, is seized upon with boundless enthusiasm and spread before the population in easy to digest bite-size pieces.
The report of the moment is accepted as true and accurate almost without exception and the general public will go along, unquestioning, with the weight of considered opinion. But woe betide anyone who might challenge the popular belief, they risk bringing down upon themselves the modern day equivalent of the Spanish inquisition.
But is the one dissenting voice on a majority jury verdict really so wrong when it is by no means uncommon for people to be wrongly convicted?
A classic example of accepted knowledge was the maximum alcohol limits of 21 units/week for a man and 14 units/week for a woman.
Having stood as 'gospel' for years, the veracity of these limits was never questioned by the general public - even if many chose not to stick to those proscribed limits! Now the figures have been exposed as the medical equivalent of a weatherman waving a saliva-wetted finger in the air - only not nearly as considered!
The other week, the Welsh School of Architecture announced the completion of research which supposedly showed that covering the walls and roofs of our buildings could reduce internal temperatures by up to 11ºC.
While completely ignoring the practicalities of achieving this semi-detached hanging garden of Babylon, the figures were accepted seemingly without question by many UK-based publications, poorly reported and, presumably, swallowed by legions of trusting readers.
But hang on a minute! Are they really claiming that on a blazingly hot, 30C, summer's day in downtown Croydon, we can expect comparatively chilly indoor temperatures of 19C in our azalea festooned residence? Well, no. The media had failed to report that this could only be achieved in Riyadh, where summer temperatures generally exceed 40C.
Even then you might care to challenge those figures, which were obtained from computer simulations, but how many people do?
Is it any wonder then that so many people succumb to fraud?
In a well-documented case in the US to test people's susceptability to on-line scams, 10,000 people were sent an official looking email directing them to a special 'password checker' site. Despite all warnings not to disclose password information to anyone, 15% of recipients tried to enter their passwords before being stopped by an automated programme.
People still fall for the Nigerian Letter scam and, more recently, the 'You've won the lottery' scam - a lottery they have never even entered!
We had a chain email sent around the office here recently, purporting to come from the police and warning people of a mobile phone scam in which fraudsters were phoning unsuspecting members of the public and getting them to dial certain numbers into their phones, an action which would then enable the fraudsters to hijack all their SIM card information. A giveaway to any recipient that this was a chain email should have been the request to 'pass this information on to everyone you know' - the stock phrase of the chain letter/email writer.
In addition, while the police are obviously under tight financial constraints, does anyone really believe that the police are now warning the public of potential crime on an individual basis by email and then asking each of those individuals to pass it on to as many people as they know?
Dear Member of the Public,
A mad axe-murderer is currently operating in your neighbourhood, he is white, 6ft 3in tall with a 3in scar on his right cheek. He is extremely dangerous and should not be approached under any circumstances. Please pass this on to as many people as you know,